The U.S. has resumed drone strikes in Pakistan, ending a six-month moratorium that was put in place to facilitate peace talks between the Pakistani government and jihadist groups.
This week, Pakistan commenced Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, a tribal area that Islamist groups have used as a base to conduct operations in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. The military is seeking to root out rebels from groups that launched an attack on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on June 8, 2014. All ten attackers died in the assault that left 18 others dead, including 11 security workers.
In the first half of 2014, Pakistan held dialogues with the radical Islamist group Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), also referred to as the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government regards the TTP as part of the “bad Taliban” because the group routinely launches attacks against Pakistani civilians and security personnel in an attempt to overthrow the secular government and replace it with a theocratic state.
The Pakistani government has peace agreements — even de facto alliances — with groups it considers the “good Taliban,” including the Haqqani Network and the Gul Bahadar Group, both based in North Waziristan. These groups do not threaten the Pakistani government and instead aid the Afghan Taliban by coordinating attacks against American, international, and Afghan national forces.
The U.S., however, does not subscribe to the “good Taliban, “bad Taliban” distinction, since both are committed to thwarting Afghanistan’s movement toward democracy and to undermining international efforts to train a self-sufficient Afghan security force.
Strong evidence suggests that the Pakistani government actively supports the “good Taliban” as proxies in a long-term effort to engineer a Pashtun-dominated neighbor in Afghanistan once international forces withdraw – a policy referred to as “strategic depth.”
Talks between the government and the TTP stalled in the early spring. In April 2014, the TTP chose not to renew a 40-day ceasefire. In May, via a rare video statement, TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah effectively killed the prospects for peace when he declared that Pakistan must accept the “writ of Allah” and adopt the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia. He encouraged suicide attackers to prepare operations against “forces that transgress the limits set by God.”
The TTP, along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), claimed responsibility for the Karachi assault that occurred just weeks later.
Fazlullah, who became the TTP’s leader after a U.S. drone strike killed former head Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, is a long-time enemy of Pakistan and the U.S.
Fazlullah battled the Pakistani military between 2007 and 2009 for control of the Swat Valley region. Though Fazlullah won autonomy in the region in 2009, he subsequently violated the terms of the peace agreement and invaded neighboring districts. At one point, his forces came within 60 miles of the capital Islamabad.
In 2012, Fazlullah ordered the assassination of several Pakistani schoolgirls for their “campaign against Islam & Shariah” and their indirect support of the “Murtad [infidel] army and Government of Pakistan.” Malala Yousafzai was one of the schoolgirls targeted following this injunction.
Fazlullah has also offered sanctuary to al-Qaeda. One of his former deputies, Ibn Amin, led a brigade of the al-Qaeda force called the Shadow Army, which is active across Afghanistan. The U.S. killed Amin in a drone strike in 2010.
The June 2014 drone strikes that ended the U.S.’s moratorium following the stillborn peace talks targeted both “good” and “bad” Taliban and Taliban-allied groups.
The first June 11 strike killed several Uzbeks with alleged ties to the IMU.
Several hours later, another strike killed several “good Taliban” members, including Haji Gul, a commander from the Haqqani Network, as well as commanders active in the Afghan Taliban. The strike destroyed vehicles carrying explosives that were likely being readied for deployment across the border in Afghanistan.